A New Day for Religion in Canada and Australia?
Reginald Bibby, who has long been the authority on religious trends in Canada, has suggested that there is ‘a new day for religion in Canada’. For too long, he says, there has been a focus on the declining religious organisations and the assumption that their plight was the plight of religion as a whole. However, with accelerated immigration, the global vitality of religion is having a dramatic impact on the state of religion in Canada. At the same time, the country as a whole is not embracing religion, leading to what he describes as ‘polarisation’. There are many parallels between Canada and Australia.
Bibby says that, in Canada, weekly church attendance dropped from 60 per cent to 31 per cent of the population between 1945 and 1975. However, since 1975, it has only dropped a little, from 31 per cent to 25 per cent. The mainline Protestants have been hardest hit, he notes: the United, Anglican, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches along with the Roman Catholics in Quebec. The Boomer generation, born between 1945 and 1965, turned away from the church in large numbers, although about 20 per cent remained involved. Their children and grandchildren have continued to drift away from the churches.
Australia, like Canada, is a major destination for people wanting to migrate. The major source countries for immigration to Canada are China, India and the Philippines, which are also among Australia’s top sources of immigrants. However, Australia also adds to the list the United Kingdom and New Zealand. As in Canada, two-thirds (65%) of the growth in the Australian population between 2001 and 2011 came through immigration. Of those immigrants, 43 per cent were Christian, 29 per cent identified with another religion, and 24 per cent had no religion (Hughes 2012, p.3). Hence, the impact of immigration on the increase in population in Australia has been very similar to its impact in Canada, but its impact on Christian groups a little less.
Religion will not disappear in Canada, says Bibby. However, the question is which religious groups will be prominent in the future. While immigration will have a considerable impact, so also will the performance of religious groups, and their inclination and ability to respond to what people want and need.
As in Canada, many Australians are in the ‘ambivalent middle’, not sure about faith and the churches. These people may respond to well-conducted forms of ministry. People are certainly looking for what will address their spiritual, personal and relational needs and interests. However, it is more likely that Australians in the ‘ambivalent middle’ would be open to short-term involvements in church-run activities for exploring faith or nurturing the spirit. Such short-term activities may become the pathway to longer-term involvement, but commitment to a congregation is unlikely to be the door to faith.
For more information see: Pointers, Volume 23, No. 1, Pages 5-6